1910: Close view of Halley’s comet streaking past stars in the night sky. (Lambert/Getty Images)
Halley’s Comet visits Earth every 76 years, so people living in 1910 knew the celestial visitor was coming. Over the previous three-quarter-century, however, the comet’s powers achieved legendary status, and early-20th-century people worried it would bring death and destruction. Some even took drastic and/or downright silly action.
Halley’s Comet In 1910
By 1910, technological advances allowed scientists to observe the approach of Halley’s Comet with more accuracy than ever before, but it also allowed them to see things that made them worry. French astronomer Camille Flammarion warned that the comet’s tail, made of deadly cyanogen gas, could penetrate the Earth’s atmosphere and end all life on the planet. Though other scientists denied such danger to the New York Times, which published Flammarion’s claims, there was still concern that the comet was a harbinger of death. A scientist at the Royal Observatory voiced worries that Halley’s Comet may cause the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans to change basins, the rain forest of South America to be swallowed up in a chasm, and ocean-dwelling animals to be thrust from the depths to the deserts of Egypt.